If you’ve ever dealt with anxiety, you can probably attest to the physical symptoms that come along with these uncomfortable feelings. The physical manifestations of anxiety are different for everyone — you might feel pressure in your chest, pain or numbness in your limbs, or a persistent headache that lasts throughout the day. For some individuals, anxiety and acid reflux have a strong connection, sometimes worsening symptoms and other times triggering them.
In this post, we’ll take a look at GERD and anxiety symptoms, how they’re connected, why they’re different, and finally, how these conditions can be managed through medical treatment and home remedies. Read on for a comprehensive perspective on GERD and anxiety or use the links below to skip ahead to the section that best answers your query.
Before we jump into the connection between GERD and anxiety, let’s start with some brief definitions of GERD and anxiety.
GERD: GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a chronic form of acid reflux, typically categorized by symptoms that occur twice a week or more. Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes when it shouldn’t, allowing stomach acid and partially digested food to travel back into the esophagus, causing a burning or painful sensation in the chest and throat, also known as heartburn. Severe heartburn can be misinterpreted as a heart attack or other symptom associated with heart disease. When left untreated, stomach acid can permanently damage the lining of the esophagus.
Anxiety: According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is defined as an emotion characterized by tense, worried thoughts and physical changes like a temporary increase in blood pressure. Individuals that deal with generalized anxiety typically have recurring, worrisome thoughts and may experience physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, dizziness, muscle tension, and rapid heartbeat.
GERD is caused by chronic acid reflux symptoms which occur when the LES muscle that separates your esophagus from your stomach relaxes when it shouldn’t. When the LES relaxes, stomach acid and partially digested food can flow back into your esophagus and cause heartburn, among other symptoms, including:
Acid reflux symptoms can be triggered and/or intensified by certain foods, lifestyle choices, and risk factors, including:
The Mayo Clinic says the onset of temporary or chronic anxiety is often tied to risk factors such as:
Now that we’ve defined both GERD and anxiety, let’s take a look at how these physiological and psychological conditions may be connected.
As we discussed earlier on in this post, stress is one contributing factor that both GERD and anxiety have in common, but is there a deeper connection between the two? Possibly. Several studies have examined how GERD and anxiety are related, and researchers have found a few links that may suggest a correlation between patients with acid reflux and anxiety symptoms.
In one study, researchers took a look at how GERD patients’ general physical health and mental health were impacted by their condition. Although the connection was not fully realized, researchers did find a close correlation between the brain and the GI tract — the system that manages how your body digests food. As a result, researchers concluded that GI symptoms, like GERD, can influence an individual’s emotional status, especially when the individual does not respond to treatment, specifically acid reflux medication. Conversely, the study also found that anxiety and other psychological factors may intensify the physical symptoms of GI disorders, including GERD.
Another study published in 2018 further examined how GERD and NERD impact an individual’s mental health, including the manifestation of anxiety and depression, and how these psychological disorders can exacerbate symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. Researchers found that anxiety can directly promote acid reflux by reducing the pressure of the LES, which controls the movement of stomach acid, and by disrupting digestive function. Additionally, the study notes that anxiety can lead to hypochondriasis which can exaggerate physical symptoms, such as heartburn.
Not exactly. While connections between gastrointestinal and psychological disorders have been forged over the years, anxiety does not directly cause acid reflux nor the chronic form of the disease, GERD. Ultimately, GERD and acid reflux are caused by a malfunctioning of the lower esophageal sphincter that allows stomach acid and undigested food particles to enter the esophagus. Symptoms that are associated with GERD and acid reflux, like chest pain, sore throat, and a burning sensation in the esophagus, can be exacerbated or triggered by stress and other risk factors.
Additionally, individuals with anxiety and depression may be more sensitive to reflux symptoms or experience them more intensely than those without psychological disorders. Vic Velanovich, MD, a gastrointestinal surgeon and researcher suggests that because anxiety can accelerate pain perception, it’s important for patients and doctors to consider physiological and psychological symptoms during initial evaluations and as they assess treatment options to follow.
While GERD and anxiety may have some connection in the context of how you might experience symptoms, it’s important to recognize the differences between these conditions, especially as you take charge of your personal wellness.
Symptoms of GERD can include:
Anxiety is often associated with psychological symptoms, including stress, worrisome thoughts, and recurring concerns, but there are several physiological expressions of anxiety, too.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:
Now that we’ve covered the similarities and differences between GERD and anxiety, let’s take a look at how these conditions are treated in a medical context and using at-home remedies.
Whether you’re dealing with GERD or anxiety, or both, it’s important to remember that every body responds to treatment differently. Talk to your doctor about a variety of treatment methods and make time to ask questions about how your physiological and psychological symptoms may be related, such as in the case of anxiety and acid reflux.
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With MedCline's Reflux Relief System minimizing symptoms of nighttime GERD, you’ll not only experience a better night’s sleep, but you’ll also reduce your exposure to harmful stomach acid while you’re catching zzz’s.